PM learnings from Legos, pitstop crews and battleships

Krishnan Raghupathi
5 min readSep 19, 2020

3 insights on how being a PM at a large company is different.

A large number of head-shaped lego blocks (representing lots of employees in a large company)
Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

There’s no dearth of content out there about what being a product manager is like, or even about how being a PM at a large company is different from being a PM at a startup. A lot of it focuses on the differences between the two in terms of pace, structure, and resourcing: great advice if you’re seeking to make a switch between the two either way. But how different are these roles over long time spans?

I’ve spent over 12 years now as a PM at Microsoft (not that unusual), and I’ve been fortunate to work on both large teams serving tens of millions of customers, and small startup-like teams bootstrapping a community from scratch.

Reflecting over the last decade, I’ve found 3 rather subtle, non-obvious differences between the two, and more importantly, in the role’s outcomes between startups and large companies. Working at a large firm means:

  1. Building giant Lego cities (vs working in a pitstop crew)
  2. Riding serendipity (vs blocking all distractions)
  3. Combating or leveraging inertia.

#1 Legos vs Pitstop

A pitstop crew attending to a race car before its next lap
Photo by Andrew Roberts on Unsplash. Working at a startup is very much like being in a pitstop crew.

Working in a small startup that’s trying to grow is very much like being in a high-performing pitstop crew. A small team of generalists with incredible focus and grace is always racing the clock to replace core components of the product and give it that added boost, before your product is now ready to take a whole another lap at gathering customer feedback and achieving market sustainability.

I recently had this experience myself: a major facet of our product was recently updated and it was amazing to see the sheer volume of things that need to be co-ordinated among so many people and come together in a very short amount of time before we shipped our update with minimal disruptions. All that prep and technology behind that 5-second pitstop update makes it feel like magic; when you’re done, your product is literally off to the races.

Krishnan Raghupathi

Product Manager, Meta. Notes on building products, life in large organizations, science fiction and travel. All opinions are my own.